Dromid Pearses man has served two years as the county U-20 football manager but won’t seek an extension to stay on in the job
Though not entirely unexpected, the decision of Declan O’Sullivan not to seek to stay on past his two years served as Kerry U-20 football manager opens up one of the key managerial positions in the Kingdom, with GAA chiefs understood to have already started the search for a successor.
O’Sullivan’s two-year term in charge ended with last month’s All-Ireland semi-final loss to Tyrone, and coupled with the 2021 Munster semi-final defeat by Cork, the Dromid Pearses club man didn't enjoy the most fruitful time as manager.
There was some success in the John Kerins Cup / U-20 Development League earlier this year, with Kerry beating Dublin in the March final in Nenagh. However, work commitments – O’Sullivan works for Liebherr Container Cranes Ltd in Killarney – are understood to be the reason for the two-time All-Ireland winning captain not staying on beyond the two years he has served.
O’Sullivan’s management team of Sean O’Sullivan and Niall O’Mahony, as well as S&C coach Padraig Murphy, have also stepped down.
Though the process of replacing O’Sullivan is thought to have already begun, there should be no immediate rush to make an appointment, and the possibility of the Under-20 grade changing to an Under-19 competition – which will be decided on at a Special Congress in the autumn – could see Kerry County Board adopt a ‘wait and see’ approach until after then.
Nevertheless, a number of possible candidates are already being mentioned as the next Kerry U-20 football manager…
The former Kerry senior footballer has been a selector with his namesake Declan for the past two years, and if the Board is looking for some continuity after Declan’s departure then Sean would certainly tick that box. He was very interested in the vacant minor manager position after Peter Keane left it in late 2018, but was overlooked for the job without being interviewed. Has managed his club, but perhaps more importantly he has been involved with the county Development Squads for several years so would have intimate knowledge of the conveyor belt of talent coming up.
Has clear designs of managing at the top level, and has being earning his coaching and managerial stripes over the last few years. He managed the Glanmire minors and then their senior team in Cork, and has worked alongside Billy Morgan with UCC’s Sigerson Cup football team. He spent 2022 as a selector to the Offaly senior team, and has been linked to the manager’s job in the Faithful county if incumbent John Maughan decides to step away. Ó Sé has long been seen as a possible Kerry senior team manager, and a term as U-21 manager could be the perfect pathway if he were to succeed his old manager Jack O’Connor down the line.
Another former protégé of current senior boss Jack O’Connor, Donaghy is a highly regarded coach in the Armagh senior management team where he has spent the 2022 season. The Tralee man spent the 2019 season in a performance coaching role with the Galway hurlers, and was also involved with the IT Tralee senior footballers as joint-manager a couple of seasons ago. Apart from having won almost every honour in football and basketball as a player, and being a hugely popular figure in the county, Donaghy is also seen as a very astute tactical coach, a great motivator and another who could manage the senior team in a few years.
Still toiling away as a player with Rathmore, O’Mahony has taken his first steps into coaching and management in recent seasons, and this year he managed the MTU Kerry team to the Sigerson Cup semi-finals, where he showed himself to be a very capable and popular sideline general. It’s unclear what his ambitions are regarding a Kerry managerial position – though he was linked with Stephen Stack’s management ticket (in a fitness coach role) last year to succeed Peter Keane. That said, O’Mahony possibly lacks the all round experience of some of his erstwhile Kerry team mates, and if the minor team job was to become available this year that might be a better fit for him.
Stack comes with a strong managerial CV, including winning the county SFC title with Austin Stacks in 2014, but he has never managed at any inter-county grade. Last year he headed up a strong management group to succeed Peter Keane as Kerry senior manager, but despite bringing Dara Ó Cinnéide, Mickey Ned O’Sullivan, Seamus Moynihan and Donie Buckley with him, he lost out to Jack O’Connor’s candidacy. Most recently Stack – a two-time All-Ireland winner as a tough defender – managed the Legion senior team, but is currently on a sabbatical from management and could be firm contender for the U-20 job.
Might be a slightly left-field choice given that he is currently on the senior management team, but if the former Laois senior manager has designs of managing the Kerry seniors one day, double-jobbing with the under-20s might not be the worst thing. The U-20 gig can be a short season, and it might be possible for Quirke – who has also managed his club O’Rahillys – to do both. If that’s not feasible would he be prepared to step away from the senior set-up to take the U-20 job anyway? If he wins the Sam Maguire with Kerry later this month it might make such a decision a little easier to make.
Quillinan isn’t one the circle of All-Ireland winning Kerry players but he can boast a managerial CV few, if any, of them can throw on the table. He has managed Stacks for eight years in total, taking them to the 2010 county final in his first period in charge, and then winning the Bishop Moynihan Cup with the Rockies in 2021 during his second stint. Stacks have also won Senior Club Championship and County League titles under his watch, and Quillinan has proved himself an innovative, passionate and popular manager. Though he managed Milltown/Castlemaine a few years back, he possibly lacks the experience to win support for the Kerry U-20 job, but if he was interested in going forward as a Quillinan/Kieran Donaghy or Quillinan/William Kirby ticket that might be more sellable.
Firies native Jerry O’Sullivan has recently managed East Kerry to a couple of county championship titles, and would certainly have respect of players and officials alike were he to express an interest. The Limerick based detective garda has previously managed the Limerick minor and under-21 footballers, and certainly got some better than expected performances and results out of the latter in the last few Munster championships.